Carol Ann Duffy


Carol Ann Duffy


I run my metal comb through the D.A. and pose                                     1

my reflection between dummies in the window at Burton’s.

Lamplight. Jimmy Dean. All over town, ducking and diving,

my shoes scud sparks against the night. She is in the canal.

Let me make myself crystal. With a good-looking girl crackling              5

in four petticoats, you feel like a king. She rode past me

on a wooden horse, laughing, and the air sang Johnny,

Remember me. I turned the world faster, flash.


I don’t talk much. I swing up beside them and do it

with my eyes. Brando. She was clean. I could smell her.                          10

I thought, Here we go, old son. The fairground spun round us

and she blushed like candyfloss. You can woo them

with goldfish and coconuts, whispers in the Tunnel of Love.

When I zip up the leather, I’m in a new skin, I touch it

and love myself, sighing Some little lady’s going to get lucky                   15

tonight. My breath wipes me from the looking glass.


We move from place to place. We leave on the last morning

with the scent of local girls on our fingers. They wear

our lovebites on their necks. I know what women want,

a handrail to Venus. She said Please and Thank you                                20

to the toffee apple, teddy bear. I thought I was on, no error.

She squealed on the dodgems, clinging to my leather sleeve.

I took a swig on whisky from the flask and frenched it

down her throat. No, she said, Don’t, like they always do.


Dirty Alice flicked my dick out when I was twelve.                               25

She jeered. I nicked a quid and took her to the spinney.

I remember the wasps, the sun blazing as I pulled

her knickers down. I touched her and I went hard,

but she grabbed my hand and used that, moaning …

She told me her name on the towpath, holding the fish                            30

in a small sack of water. We walked away from the lights.

She’d come too far with me now. She looked back, once.


A town like this would kill me. A gypsy read my palm.

She saw fame. I could be anything with my looks,

my luck, my brains. I bought a guitar and blew a smoke ring                   35

at the moon. Elvis nothing. I’m not that type, she said.

Too late. I eased her down by the dull canal

and talked sexy. Useless. She stared at the goldfish, silent. I grabbed

the plastic bag. She cried as it gasped and wriggled

on the grass and here we are. A dog craps by a lamp post.                      40


Mama, straight up, I hope you rot in hell. The old man

sloped off, sharpish. I saw her through the kitchen window.

The sky slammed down on my school cap, chicken licken.

Lady, Sweetheart, Princess, I say now, but I never stay.

My sandwiches were near her thigh, then the Rent Man                          45

lit her cigarette and I ran, ran … She is in the canal.

These streets are quiet, as if the town has held its breath

to watch the Wheel go round above the dreary houses.


No, don’t. One thump did it, then I was on her,

giving her everything I had. Jack the Lad, Ladies Man.                          50

Easier to say Yes. Easier to stay a child, wide-eyed

at the top of the helter-skelter, You get one chance in this life

and if you screw it you’re done for, uncle, no mistake.

She lost a tooth. I picked her up, dead slim,  and slid her in.

A girl like that should have a paid up solitaire and high hopes,                55

but she asked for it. A right-well knackered outragement.


My reflection sucks a sour Woodbine and buys me a drink. Here’s

Looking at you. Deep down I’m talented. She found out. Don’t mess

with me, angel, I’m no nutter. Over in the corner, a dead ringer

for Ruth Ellis smears a farewell kiss on the lip of a gin and lime.            60

The barman calls Time. Bang in the centre of my skull,

there’s a strange coolness. I could almost fly. Tomorrow

will find me elsewhere, with a loss of memory. Drink up son,

the world’s your f***ing oyster. Awopbopaloobop alopbimbam.


How does Carol Ann Duffy create a menacing character in “Psychopath”?


1. Title


Makes clear that the most important thing in the persona is the main character and his menacing psychological state. A ‘psychopath’ is someone who is ‘emotionally blind’ and this suggests he will have no feelings for his victims and no sense of guilt.


2. Persona (1stperson narrative / dramatic monologue)


By taking on a persona CAD is seeking to explore the roots of the psychopath’s behaviour (deeper understanding), to do this she uses the poem to get into the psychopath’s thoughts and feelings. Because he speaks to us in first person narrative we have to respond to his changing personality as it is revealed to us.


3. Setting


The setting is a 1960s fairground. The atmosphere is created through word choice such as “wooden horse”,fairground”, “candy floss”.

Fairgound has connotations of fun, childhood, innocence and it is therefore ironic that in a place associated with happiness CAD places her main character. He also seems more menacing in the contrast with the bright happy place and his own dark clothed personality.


A further contrast is that of the canal: “she is in the canal”. This creates a sense of mystery: who is she? How did she get there? The short sentence suggests his lack of concern about her and the mystery and suddenness of her death.


4. Characterisation


The persona / psychopath thinks of himself as like a 1960s Hollywood icon, references are made to “Jimmy Dean”, Marlon “Brando”, “Elvis” Presley and Bogart. This suggests he is worryingly narcisstic and delusional.


He needs a beautiful woman to feel good about himself: “with a good looking girl crackling is four petticoats you feel like a king”. The description suggests he looks for a young and innocent girl.

CAD uses imagery to describe his character changes: “when I zip up the leather, I’m in a new skin”. The word “new” suggests a complete change, “new skin” also has connotations of a snake which suggests danger. It also develops the idea that he likes to dress up for murder and killing.


5. Key incidents


CAD recreates two incidents from his past as flashbacks to help the reader understand the roots of the psychopath’s behaviour.


a) Dirty Alice


she humiliates him sexually when he was young: “Dirty Alice flicked my dick out when I was twelve. She jeered.” The internal rhyme of “flick” and “dick” demonstrates how powerfully memorable this was to the psychopath. The short sentence and the word choicejeered” reinforces the idea of him being humiliated. She left him sexually frustrated: “she grabbed my hand and used that” and this loss of sexual satisfaction seems to be at the root of his behaviour. The word choice “grabbed” also suggests that this is when he first made his connection between sex and violence.


b) Rent Man


The incident with the “Rent Man” the capitalisation points out how important this incident was when he saw his mother paying the rent through sexual favours. The use of the word choiceMama” and reference to “school cap” suggests that at that time he was young and innocent. The experience affected him deeply and CAD uses imagery to describe it: “the sky slammed down on my school cap” the word choiceslammed” showing how powerfully it hit him.


c) In both of these key incidents the poet uses ellipsis to show how the psychopath’s past has affected him and how it leads to become the menacing character he is in the present for after seeing the rent man he says “I ran,ran…” the ellipsis making the link between the past and the present.


6. The girl’s violent death


The psychopath chooses the girl carefully: “She was clean. I could smell her.” He begins to groom her for his own purposes, he “woo”s her, “whispers in the Tunnel of Love”. He believes that she is lucky to have him: “Some little lady’s going to get lucky tonight.” It is ironic that this is her unluckiest night and it is menacing because he had already decided to kill her.


The rape of the girl


Transferred over to the image of her prize goldfish dying: “she cried as it gasped and wriggled on the grass” – this suggests she has become his “prize” and the word choice “gasped” and “wriggled” suggests how violently he is holding her down. His violence continues: “No, don’t. One thump did it, then I was on her giving her everything I had.” The short sentence suggests the suddenness and power of his attack. This is carried on with the final memory: “She lost a tooth. I picked her up, dead slim, and slid her in.” The pun on “dead slim” suggests both how slender she was but how he had also finally killed her.


7. In conclusion


The menacing nature of the psychopath is shown in the final verse when everything comes full circle. Seeing his reflection in a pub mirror his delusions continue: “Don’t mess with me angel, I’m no nutter”. The colloquial “nutter” suggests that others may have called him this. He plans the death of another blond girl: “a dead ringer for Ruth Ellis smears a farewell kiss” once again there is a play on the word “dead” and the word choice “farewell” suggests he is already planning her death. The image is of “Ruth Ellis” another woman whom many considered to be innocent yet met a violent death. In doing this CAD gets to the most menacing point about the psychopath that he is in a vicious circle and will continue to commit his crimes.


Important first and last lines of “Psychopath”


First line

“I run my metal comb through the D.A and pose my reflection between dummies in the window at Burton’s”






“I run my”

Duffy is taking on the persona of a psychopath and we get to hear the inner workings of this deranged character


“metal comb”

also carries connotations of stabbing, comb often a weapon used like a knife

Foreshadows the violence to come.


Could stand for “Duck’s Arse” which was a popular hair style during the 1950s and 1960s. It could also stand for “district attorney” who prosecutes criminals.

Develops a setting and a context for the poem.


This also foreshadows the violence that is to come.


Used to show that he is quite unnatural and also that he is vain. He likes the way he looks and likes to look at his reflection.

Word choice to highlight an aspect of his character.


He is referring to the manikins in the window but is using this to show his superiority. He feels that he is better than them.

Highlighting an aspect of his character.




Last line


“Drink up son, the world’s your fucking oyster. Awopbopaloobob alopbimbam.”






“Drink up son”

He once again is turning to alcohol to get courage. It seems these are the words from someone else. Maybe a father figure?

Interior monologue: we get to hear the inner workings of the psychopath.

“the world’s”

He thinks that he can have anything that he wants. It is his for the taking.

Word choice and theme (he can take someone’s innocence)

“your fucking”

Vulgarity to show that he is not refined and presents a picture to the reader of a ruffian.

Word choice


Oysters have sexual connotations; they are used as an aphrodisiac. This relates to the psychopath as he takes sex from women


“Awopbopaloobob alopbimbam.”


Line from a popular song. It is meant to imitate the sound of a drum. He psychopath could be drumming on the bar, psyching himself up for his next conquest



“Psychopath” by Carol Anne Duffy

Intermediate 2 Student Essay 2010



A psychopath is defined by their anti—social behaviour and their inability to show remorse for the things in life that they do which are wrong. ‘Psychopath’ by Carol Ann Duffy is a poem scripted in the form of a dramatic monologue which portrays the character of an anonymous psychopath. Duffy creates this sinister yet interesting character well through techniques such as word choice, setting and time switches.

The setting of this poem is in the 1950s era which is recognised through cultural references to the character’s “D.A.” and famous men “Jimmy Dean” and “Brando”. From the beginning of the poem the psychopath’s personality is revealed. He is egotistic, narcissistic and self-indulgent; “Pose my reflection in the mirror …. Touch it, I love myself”. The psychopath compares himself to the iconic and respected stars “Jimmy Dean” and “Brando” showing he thinks very highly of himself when in fact he is a murderer:  “she is in the canal”. This casual understatement suggests that the canal is where he dumps his victims. The casualness and blunt tone of this statement shows he has no remorse for what he is doing. Here, what makes the psychopath and interesting character is that he does not understand what he is doing is wrong. A majority of this poem is set on a fairground which has connotations of childhood: “she rode past me on a wooden horse” “she blushed like candyfloss”. Childhood is an important theme throughout this poem as it suggests the origin of the psychopath’s misogyny towards women. The childhood connotations of the fairground characterise his victims – young, innocent and na├»ve.

The psychopath is misogynistic and disrespectful towards women: “frenched it down her throat”. This shows him to be disrespectful towards women and has connotations of violence as it suggests he is forcing himself upon her. Throughout the poem the audience realise that the psychopath does what he does to women regularly: “I don’t talk I swing up beside them and do it with my eyes.” This portrays the character to be sinister because he assumes what he is doing is normal and not frowned upon. The narractor assumes that we share his logic for what he does as he speaks directly to the audience: “we move from place to place we leave …. Our fingers”. The use of “we” and “our” suggest that the psychopath thinks he is normal and part of society like everybody else, when in fact he is not. As the poem goes on the character gets more interesting as he becomes more sinister and also because the audience find out about his childhood experiences.

Duffy portrays the character of the psychopath further effectively through the use of flashback techniques. In stanzas four and six the audience are taken back to the character’s troubled childhood: “Dirty Alice flicked my dick out when I was twelve … she jeered.” Here the psychopath is talking about his first sexual experience which was negative and humiliating. “I remember the wasps, the sun blazing…” By remembering such minor details it suggests to the audience that the character has carried this experience with him all his adult life. By the use of the word choice of “wasps” it suggests that it stings for him to remember this experience. Duffy uses ellipses to bring the audience back from the flashback into the present time – his present victim – at the fairground. The juxtaposition of past and present is effective as it gives the audience an insight to the origin of the speaker’s misogyny towards women.

In conclusion, I personally believe Duffy effectively portrays an interesting character as she creates him to be sinister and to have no remorse for his actions. Duffy’s use of flashbacks and detailed settings help to portray the character further as they explore childhood. What makes the character interesting is that he remains anonymous throughout the poem but to the audience seems real and believable.

Choose a poem in which a chance encounter acquires increased significance by the end of the poem.


Show how the poet’s development of the encounter leads you to a deeper understanding of the poem’s theme.


“Psychopath” by Carol Ann Duffy is a poem where a chance encounter acquires increased significance by the end of the poem. This poem through the technique of persona and dramatic monologue explores the inner workings of a psychopath who rapes and murders women. He achieves his psychopathic status since he works in the fair ground and moves from place to place, never getting caught. Duffy is able to show how a chance encounter explores the theme of loss of innocence through her use of persona, word choice and imagery.


Duffy utilises the technique of persona to highlight the importance of the chance encounter and how it reveals the central theme of the poem. In stanza two, we begin to see the inner workings of the psychopath and how he approaches his victims, “I don’t talk much. I swing up beside them and do it with my eyes.”  By admitting that he “[doesn’t] talk much” implies that he is shy and doesn’t want to come across as too over bearing. Perhaps he is genuine in his approach to women and doesn’t want to be rejected. Unfortunately, “do it with my eyes” contradicts this as we now see someone who oozes confidence and believes that one look is enough to get anyone to follow him. “Do it” is also slang for sexual relations so an innocent day out at the fair is now corrupted with sexual advances from a psychopath.


We continue to think that the speaker of the poem is after some romance and nothing more when he describes spending time with the girl, “You can woo them with goldfish and coconuts, whispers in the Tunnel of love.” The word choice of “woo” suggest flattery and courting, that he is simply trying to get the girl to like him. This is further developed with “goldfish” and “coconuts.” He is using his employment to attract this girl.  Furthermore, the idea of “whispers” implies closeness and intimacy and “Tunnel of Love” suggests secrecy and mystery. It all seems like this chance encounter is going to lead to something innocent but we soon learn that there is nothing innocent about his behaviour. It soon becomes clear that his loss of innocence will cause the loss of innocence of another person.


Imagery is used in the poem to show how a chance meeting can reveal a central theme of a text. The girl in the poem is not aware of the dangers lurking at the fair. She assumes she will be safe, “The fairground spun round us and she blushed like candyfloss.” This simile suggests that the speaker and the girl are at the centre of the universe with the world revolving around them. By comparing the girl to “candyfloss” this reinforces the idea of innocence and being carefree. The fact that she is “[blushing] like candyfloss” demonstrates that she is not used to advances from men and she isn’t used to being pursued. This tells the reader that for her, this chance meeting may be one of her first with a man but unfortunately, he is ready to take her innocence for his own purposes.


Furthermore, the speaker of the poem is uncomfortable with himself and needs to take on the persona of other people to give him the confidence to talk to girls. “When I zip up the leather, I’m in a new skin.” This is how he prepared for the chance encounter with the girl, knowing that by wearing the jacket, he would find his next victim. “New skin” suggests that he does not like himself and needs “leather” to make him into someone else. It’s like he is intentionally planning this attack. He knows when he “[zips] up the leather” that nothing can stand in his way. It is a fresh chance every time and he can remove himself from his deeds by taking off the jacket. This act ruins the chance encounter as he has obviously planned what was going to happen and knew he was going to take away someone’s innocence.


Lastly, Duffy’s use of word choice helps to show how a chance meeting can lead to a loss of innocence. We only ever hear the voice of the girl through the thoughts of the psychopath. “No, she said, Don’t, like they always do.” Duffy doesn’t use speech marks to mark the girl’s speech as it is the psychopath who is remembering the night. It is like he is relishing in the memory of what happened. The word choice of “No” and “Don’t” shows us that the girl did not anticipate this meeting turning out like this and that she does not want to have relations with this man. It becomes apparent that this is not the first time he has planned something like this and made a girl follow him away from safety. “Like they always do.” “They” means that there has been more than one and “always” tells us that he often hears the word “No.” He knows what he needs to go to make this meeting go from ordinary to extraordinary resulting in the loss of the girl’s innocence.


The girl knows that meeting this boy was a huge mistake and the death of the goldfish foreshadows her fate, “she stared at the goldfish, silent. I grabbed the plastic bag. She cried as it gasped and wriggled on the grass.” The word choice of “silent” suggests that she is no longer protesting and that she knows that something bad is going to happen to her. Furthermore, “grabbed” demonstrates something aggressive and forceful while “gasped” and “wriggled” implies something fighting for its life. This could be suggesting this is how she acted just before the psychopath raped and murdered her. It becomes clear that this chance meeting had disastrous consequences for the girl. Not only was her innocence untimely taken from her, her life ended all to satisfy the needs of a psychopath who knew exactly what he was doing and it was not a chance encounter after all.


In conclusion, “Psychopath” by Carol Ann Duffy is a poem where a chance encounter acquires increased significance by the end of the poem. This poem cleverly exposes the workings of a delusional mind and allows the reader to see how a psychopath thinks and what makes them act the way they do. By writing this experience through a dramatic monologue, it is like we are inside the head of the killer and know exactly what has driven him to murder and rape.

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